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By Eve Yohalem

Chronicle Books, 2009 ($16.99)
Ages 10 and up
ISBN-10: 081186653X
ISBN-13: 978-0-8118-6653-8

Reviewed by Shirley Wetzel

Teen-age Lucy Hoffman dreams of wandering through the Ethiopian wilderness, seeing exotic animals up close and personal, communing with the Gelada baboons found only in the Simien Mountains, and watching lions and other animals in their native habitat. Because of her overprotective mother, the American ambassador to Ethiopia, however, she is seldom allowed outside the heavily-guarded American compound, and she is bored and frustrated. What’s the point of splitting the family up -- her father has a job in Indonesia, and her mother could not turn down such a prestigious position -- if Lucy is virtually a prisoner, yearning for excitement but stuck in a security bubble? The students in the private school she attends, mostly the children of rich European and Ethiopian families, hate Americans because of the political climate. She has two friends, also outcasts: Tana, one of the rich Ethiopian girls who has an open mind, and Teddy, a scholarship boy.

She loves animals, and the best times in her dreary life are the times she spends riding through a nearby wildlife park with Dahnie, one of the park rangers. She does a lot of reading about African wildlife, but she yearns to see it, not just read about it, and to follow in the footsteps of her heroes, Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey.

Then Lucy and Tana cook up a scheme to get around their parents’ restrictions, and Lucy quickly finds out that Mother did know best. She is kidnapped and taken to a shack far out in the countryside, and it becomes apparent that help may not arrive in time to save her. Using every bit of the knowledge she has acquired about the Ethiopian wilderness, and drawing on skills she didn’t know she possessed, she begins to make her way back home under the vast forever sky. Along the way, she learns important lessons about trust, friendship, and family.

Ms. Yohalem was inspired to write this story after reading a news article about a girl who’d been kidnapped in Ethiopia. It would be interesting to know the outcome of that story: one hopes it turned out all right as well. Lucy is a wonderful character, and young girls and boys too will be inspired by her adventures. The author paints a vivid portrait of Ethiopia and its people, both the good and bad. Her descriptions of the landscape and wildlife are vivid and lyrical. Lucy and her friends are great characters, and I hope that there are more adventures ahead for them.

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